DAY 6: The Length of the Exile
Updated: May 31, 2020
The Gemara teaches: שית אלפי שני הוה עלמא — “The world will exist for six thousand years.” As is well known, these years correspond to the six middos, [and these divine attributes in turn correspond to the first six days of the week,] as it is written, כי אלף שנים בעיניך כיום אתמול כי יעבור — “For a thousand years are in Your eyes like yesterday that has passed.”
The first thousand years reflected the divine attribute of Chessed (“lovingkindness”). This explains the extreme longevity in that period.
In the second millennium the dominant attribute was Gevurah (“strict justice”); hence the Flood took place at this time.
The third millennium was characterized by the attribute of Tiferes (“glory”), which combines the preceding two attributes. This was the time of the Giving of the Torah, which comprises the attribute of Chessed (expressed in the 248 positive commandments) and of Gevurah (expressed in the 365 prohibitive commandments).
The fourth millennium gave expression to the attribute of Netzach (which means both “eternity” and “victory”). During this period, therefore, the two Temples stood, for, as our Sages taught, והנצח: זו ירושלים — “ ‘Vehanetzach’ is an allusion to Jerusalem.” The Destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash began towards the end of this millennium, at its “heel” (Heb.: עקב) — 172 (עק"ב) years before the fifth millennium. (This is hinted at in the phrase, ואתה תשופנו עקב. Though the plain meaning of this verse is, “You will strike him in the heel,” it can also be understood to mean, “You will strike it 172 [years before the end of the millennium].”)
The fifth millennium corresponds to the attribute of Hod (“majesty”), which in the scheme of the Sefiros is cognate with the sternness of Gevurah. And, indeed, this millennium was replete with expulsions, anti-Semitic edicts and annihilation. Incidentally, the two diverse facets of the attribute of Hod are reflected in a derush that transforms the meaning of the Hebrew word הוד by reversing its three letters. There is a verse that says, כל היום דוה — “...ailing all day.” Another verse says, והודי נהפך עלי למשחית — “My majesty was transformed for me to a despoiler.” This divine attribute can thus be viewed from two angles, so to speak.
The sixth millennium reflects the divine attribute of Yesod (“foundation”), [which focuses and transmits the accumulated spiritual riches of the preceding Sefiros]. It thus serves as a preparation for the seventh millennium, יום שכולו שבת — “the day which is entirely Shabbos.”
Let us now consider the Redemption from this historical perspective.
Concerning the promised time of the Ultimate Redemption, the Sages say, זכו: אחישנה; לא זכו: בעתה — “If [the Jewish people] are found worthy, I shall hasten it; if they are not found worthy, [the Redemption will come] at its appointed time.”
Had the Jewish people been found worthy of it, they would have been redeemed at the beginning of the sixth millennium, which followed after the previous millennium’s dark night of exile. To use the above-mentioned metaphor of days, the beginning of the sixth millennium was the first “morning”. However, since at that time the Jewish people were not found worthy of redemption, the exile has now extended beyond the five-hundredth year of the sixth millennium, which is the second “morning”. Indeed, the author of Or HaChayim writes that the sparks of the revelation of the Redemption first began to appear from the five-hundredth year of the sixth millennium, by virtue of the lofty tzaddikim who flourished at that time.